ROMANOVA v. EPP
OPINION. Signed by Judge Jose L. Linares on 5/8/17. (sr, )
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No.: 17-2720 (iLL)
TETIANA V. ROMANOVA,
RICHARD HARRY EPP,
LINARES, District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court by way of Pro se Plaintiff Tetiana V. Rornanova’s
filing of a Complaint and application for emergent relief along with an application to proceed in
Jorma pailperis, pursuant to 2$ U.S.C.
§ 1915. (ECF No. 1). Based on Plaintiffs affidavit of
poverty, the Court (1) grants Plaintiffs application to proceed info,-ma pauperis, and (2) directs
the Clerk of the Court to file the Complaint without prepayment of filing fees.
However, pursuant to 2$ U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(3), this Court has
sua sponte screened
Plaintiffs Complaint to determine whether it is frivolous or fails to state a claim. A complaint
will be deemed deficient if it does not comply with the pleading requirements set forth in Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). Specifically, a complaint must state: “(1) a short and plain statement
of the grounds for the court’s jurisdiction.
(2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing
that the pleader is entitled to relief; and (3) a demand for the relief sought, which may include
relief in the alternative or different types of relief” FRCP 8(a). Having reviewed Plaintiffs
Complaint, the Court finds the Complaint fails to sufficiently plead grounds for this Court’s subject
matter jurisdiction and fails to state a claim for relief which this Court has the authority to grant.
Accordingly, the Court will dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint and will pennit Plaintiff an opportunity
to file an amended pleading that complies with Rule 8(a).
Plaintiff is “an American legal pennanent resident Green Card holder” who, in 2008,
emigrated from Ukraine to the United States though the K-i fiancé visa program. (Compl. at 1).
According to the Complaint, Defendant Epp is an American citizen who was Plaintiffs K-l visa
sponsor. (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that she married Epp, but that “everything the [D]efendant had
told [her] about himself and promised to provide for [her] in America, were later discovered to be
nothing but lies and never occurred.” (Id.). Further, Plaintiff alleges that the Defendant failed to
comply with certain requirements of the K-i visa program and that he was physically and
otherwise abusive towards her and her two children. In short, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant
committed “immigration fraud.” Against this backdrop, Plaintiff asserts five counts against Epp
sounding in breach of contract, false imprisonment, fraudulent inducement, and breach of fiduciary
duty. (Id. at 30-34).
According to Plaintiff, “[t]here is an ongoing proceeding in Broward County, Florida
that further complicates the legal issues in this Complaint.” (Id. at 2). The
Complaint outlines the history of the Florida Circuit Court proceedings, including: the 2012 entry
of a “Final Judgment of Dissolution” of marriage; the entry of a child custody order; Plaintiffs
filing of a “Petition to permit Relocation with Minor Children and a Motion for Temporary Order
Granting the Relocation,” and; the entry of a “Final Judgment of Injunction for Protection against
Domestic Violence with minor Children (after Notice))” against Defendant. (Id. at 2-5). Plaintiff
alleges that, when the Florida court failed to timely resolve her Relocation Petition, out of fear for
the safety of herself and her children, she left Florida and advised the Palm Beach County District
Attorney’s office of same. Afier Plaintiff lefi the State of Florida, and sometime around February
1, 2016, the Florida Circuit Court granted Defendant’s “Motion for a Child Pick Up.” (Id. at 7-8).
Plaintiff further alleges that she was never provided with legal notice of the Child Pick Up Order,
and that the State Court issued a warrant for her arrest for her failure to return her children to
Broward County, Florida. (Id. at 8). Plaintiff contends that her procedural due process rights were
violated by the entry of the “Child Pick Up Order” because the Court did not send her legal notice
of same and did not consider her attorney’s objection to the Defendant’s motion for the Child Pick
Up Order. (Id. at 8).
As a remedy for Defendant’s alleged immigration fraud, Plaintiff requests that this Court
terminate Defendant’s parental rights, issue “an immediate order staying the Broward County,
Florida circuit court’s ‘Child Pick Up’ order issued sometime around March 1st, of 2016” and
order a withdrawal of the pending arrest warrant. (Id. at 35-36; ECF No. 1-1 at 1). Plaintiff also
requests “a foniial declaration of rights and Declaratory Judgment order stating whether the
defendant Epp is legally responsible for
federal immigration fraud by intentionally
defrauding the plaintiff and the U.S. government while serving as a United States’ K-I ‘Alien
Fiancee’ Visa sponsor.” (Compl. at 58).
Although couched as an action against Defendant Epp for common law claims grounded
in alleged “immigration fraud,” Plaintiff ultimately seeks to void the Florida Circuit Court’s child
custody orders. “The fundamental principal of the Rooker-feidman doctrine [is] that a federal
district court may not sit as an appellate court to adjudicate appeals of state court proceedings.”
Fort Auth. Police Benevolent Assoc., Inc. v. Port Auth. ofNY and NJ. Police Dep ‘t, 973 F.2d
169, 179 (3d Cir. 1992). That is, the Rooker-feidman doctrine “prohibits District Courts from
adjudicating actions in which ‘the relief requested.
decision is wrong or
requires determining that the state court’s
void[ing] the state court’s ruling.” Desi’s Pizza, Inc. v. City of Wilkes
Barre, 321 F.3d 411, 419 (3d Cir.2003) (citing FOCUS v. Allegheny County Court of Common
Pleas, 75 F.3d 834, 840 (3d Cir.1996)). Yet, in this case, the relief Plaintiff seeks “can only be
predicated upon a finding that the state court has made incorrect factual and legal determinations
in entering its orders.” McAllister v. Allegheny County Family Div., 12$ Fed. Appx. 901, 902 (3d
Cir. 2005). Because Plaintiff seeks an order from this Court reversing various orders of the Florida
Circuit Court, this Court it is without jurisdiction to entertain this matter pursuant to the Rooker
Additionally, the Court finds that the abstention doctrine developed in Younger v. Harris,
401 U.S. 37 (1971) counsels against this Court exercising jurisdiction over a matter seeking review
of a pending state court proceeding. Three requirements must be met before Younger abstention
is appropriate: “(1) there must be pending or ongoing state proceedings which are judicial in
nature; (2) the state proceedings must implicate important state interests; and (3) the state
proceedings must afford an adequate opportunity to raise any constitutional issues.” O’Neill v. City
of Philadelphia, 32 f.3d 785, 789 (3d Cir. 1994) (citation omitted). Here, the first element of
Younger abstention is plainly met where Plaintiff has expressly stated that “[t]here is an ongoing
proceeding in Broward County, Florida” relating to child custody. (Cornpl. at 2). Second, it is
beyond question that matters of domestic relations and child custody are quintessentially of state
See Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 702-704 (1992) (recognizing an
Notably, this Court also lacks subject matter jurisdiction under the domestic relations exception
to federal diversity jurisdiction. See Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 702-704 (1992)
(recognizing an exception to federal diversity jurisdiction for cases involving divorce, alimony,
and child custody
exception to federal diversity jurisdiction for cases involving divorce, alimony, and child custody).
Finally, to the extent Plaintiff contends that her constitutional rights were violated by the Florida
Circuit Court, Plaintiff certainly had the opportunity to raise those issues on appeal. Accordingly,
the Court declines to exercise jurisdiction over this action under the doctrine of Younger
Even if this Court had the authority to exercise jurisdiction over this matter, the Court finds
that this District would not be the proper venue for Plaintiffs case. Pursuant to 2$ U.S.C.
venue is properly laid in: “(1) a judicial district in which any defendant resides
; (2) a judicial
district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, or
a substantial part of property that is the subject of the action is situated; or (3) if there is no district
in which an action may otherwise be brought as provided in this section, any judicial district in
which any defendant is subject to the Court’s personal jurisdiction with respect to such action.”
§ 1391. Here, none of these bases for venue exist as: (1) the Defendant does not reside
in this District, but rather resides in Florida; (2) the Defendant’s alleged misconduct occurred in
Florida, and; (3) there does not appear to be any basis for this Court to exercise personal
jurisdiction over Defendant.
For all of the reasons discussed above, the Court will dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint and
will deny Plaintiffs application for emergent relief However, although it appears unlikely that
Plaintiff will be able to overcome the numerous jurisdictional deficiencies outlined in this Opinion,
given Plaintiffs Pro se status, the Court will permit Plaintiff an opportunity to file an Amended
Complaint that complies with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a).
accompanies this Opinion.
An appropriate Order
IT IS SO ORDERED.
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